Alleged Hate Crime at MSU
19, says he was
assaulted at an
° the incident.
"We've all just decided to put a freeze on
it communication," she said.
Zach Tennen, 19, in the hospital after
e should be settling into campus
life and getting into the swing of
his sophomore year at Michigan
State University. Instead, journalism student
Zachary Tennen, 19, of Franklin will have
to catch up on classes. He's spent nearly
two weeks of the new school year recover-
ing from surgery to repair a broken jaw,
an injury he says he suffered during a hate
However, East Lansing Police investigat-
ing the assault — which took place in the
early morning hours of Aug. 26 at an off-
campus party on the 500 block of Spartan
Avenue — say it was likely not a hate
crime. They've identified witnesses and an
18-year-old suspect from Farmington Hills
who is not a student at Michigan State. At
press time, charges had not yet been filed.
"They were making Nazi and Hitler sym-
bols, and they said they were part of the
KKK," Zach told a local television news sta-
tion. He said two men asked him if he was
Jewish and when he answered, "Yes," they
knocked him unconscious.
He also said his mouth was stapled dur-
ing the attack. Police say doctors did not
see evidence of staples, although witnesses
reportedly told investigators there was a
small piece of metal in the victim's mouth
following the assault.
The 2011 Birmingham Groves High
School graduate also told his family and
police that no one at the party came to his
aid after he was assaulted at the gathering.
Tennen was at this party alone; several
friends had left him earlier. He took a cab
to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing and later
underwent surgery to have his jaw wired
shut at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital
The story received national attention
thanks in part to social media websites like
Facebook and Twitter.
Rabbi Jason Miller, an MSU grad and
AEPi Chi Chapter member (Zach is also a
member of the national Jewish fraternity),
has been in contact with the family.
"Zach's jaw is broken in two places,"
September 6 - 2012
Miller said. "The police are saying this was
a fight over a girl, but he doesn't have a girl-
friend. There's no girl. They clearly asked
him if he was Jewish and he said, 'Yes, and
that's when the altercation started."
The Detroit Jewish News made numer-
ous attempts to reach Zach and his parents,
Bruce and Tina Tennen, for comment.
Despite appearing in television news
reports and in local newspapers during the
time of our requests, Bruce Tennen sent a
message to the JN saying, "I would love to
share Zach's story with you and I love and
trust the JN, but our attorney wants us to
stop all communications now."
Bruce's father, Harvey F. Tennen, was
a longtime Wayne County Circuit Court
Judge who died in 2011.
"I've never heard of anything so horrific,"
Bruce Tennen is quoted as saying in the
media about the attack on his son. "They
should be prosecuted under the full extent
of the law as a hate crime. It's my intention
to get the Anti-Defamation League involved
as well as perhaps a civil rights attorney,
and I will see this to the end."
ADL Michigan Region Director Betsy
Kellman initially called the attack "horrific"
and told the Detroit News, "This is one of
the worst discrimination cases I've seen:'
Several days later, after meeting with Zach
and his family, she declined to comment on
Hate Crime Defined
Congress has defined a hate crime "as
a criminal offense against a person or
property motivated in whole or part by
an offender's bias against a race, religion,
disability, ethnic origin or sexual orienta-
Hate itself is not a crime, and the
FBI is mindful of protecting freedom
of speech and other civil liberties. This
is important because there is penalty
enhancement for a hate crime.
According to FBI statistics, Michigan
has the fifth highest number of hate
crimes in the United States, down from
third several years ago (www.fbi.gov ). In
Meanwhile, MSU's president and Hillel rep-
resentatives were busy issuing open letters
to the school community and supporters in
response to the attack.
"The University believes that anti-Semitic
behavior is antithetical to the values that
must underpin our community," wrote
Michigan State University President Lou
Anna K. Simon on Aug. 29.
"Reports that an anti-Semitic incident
occurred in East Lansing not only affected
the student involved but undermines the
work we have done in partnership with
Hillel and the Jewish community to support
our Jewish students.
"Violence within our community, for any
reason, affects us all:"
Prior to the assault, Zach attended a din-
ner Saturday night with members of MSU
Hillel. The students reunited after traveling
to Israel along with Zach on a Birthright
Israel trip in May.
"Reports and stories have been flying
around, and we have been trying our best
to respond to the situation in an appropri-
ate and reasonable manner," wrote MSU
Hillel Executive Director Cindy Hughey in
an Aug. 29 letter addressed to "Friends of
"At this point in time, East Lansing Police
do not believe that this terrible incident
was, in fact, a hate crime. Witnesses have
identified a suspect, who is not an MSU stu-
dent and lives in the Detroit area. The FBI
and ADL have also been involved.
"The story that the student's mouth was
stapled shut has been confirmed untrue by
Sparrow Hospital. There are many conflict-
ing stories, and we are trying our best to
support Zach, our students and community
during this difficult time."
Jeff Sakwa of West Bloomfield, a long-
the religion category, crimes against Jews
remains the highest category; this also
includes crimes of destruction to syna-
gogues or cemeteries.
According to the Anti-Defamation
League's annual anti-Semitic audit, the
number of reported incidents nationally
has remained fairly steady. In 2010, 1,239
incidents were reported compared to
1,211 in 2009 (www.adl.org).
Pockets of white supremacist activity
and Nazis exist in Michigan as well as
other hate groups. Known areas include
Metro Detroit, Cadillac, the area of Bay
City and Saginaw.
— Betsy Kellman, ADL
time family friend of the Tennens, describes
Zach as a basketball aficionado and a good
kid. Sakwa, who sat on the bimah with
Zach during his bar mitzvah at Temple Shir
Shalom in West Bloomfield, is running as a
Republican nominee for MSU trustee.
Regarding the assault, Sakwa said, "We'll
let the facts stand and see for ourselves; no
one should rush to judgment. Police and
the FBI are looking into it. Zach was beaten
up and nobody deserves to get beaten up no
matter what the circumstances were."
Senior Alex Waldman, president of the
MSU Jewish Student Union and an AEPi
member, told the State News, "Regardless of
what the outcome of this incident is, this is
an opportunity for our campus to evaluate
hate toward groups, whether it's cultural,
racial or religious; hate is always there, and
[for] students our age, as young adults, it is
our responsibility to eliminate that:'
Rabbi Miller and Zach's father expressed
"Whether police decide to classify this
horrific incident as a hate crime or not,
the fact remains this was an anti-Semitic
incident and we cannot allow it to happen,"
Miller said. "The college campus and the
surrounding community must be safe envi-
ronments for our college students."
Bruce Tennen is quoted in the media
as saying, "I hope we can live in a non-
prejudicial, non-anti-Semitic society where
somebody's not attacked based on their
race, creed, nationality, religion, lifestyle.
"What did Zach do? He didn't provoke
anybody. He was an innocent victim. And
even if he did provoke somebody, does that
merit trying to maim and/or kill? No, I
don't think so."
East Lansing Police are still investigating the
assault. Anyone with information is asked to
contact Det. Dan Brown at (517) 319-6811.
During a Birthright Israel trip in May,
Zach drew back from a feisty camel.